Sunday, 27 November 2016

Desert Wheatear - Thurlestone, Devon

Back in November 2011 a desert wheatear spent a few days at Mansands in South Devon and I didn't get to see it - Mansands is a pain to get to with no public transport options and although David offered to take me on the Sunday when it was present I declined as I wasn't in the mood to put up with a load of twitchers.

And so the recent news of a desert wheatear at Thurlestone piqued my interest although initially sightings proved to be erratic and it was quite elusive before finally giving itself up and showing daily on Thurlestone beach. Work, weather and transport issues meant I wasn't able to get out to see it until November 25th but I wasn't disappointed as I got some amazing views of the bird.

I headed off to Kingsbridge on the early bus at 07:25 hrs and it was a little fraught - it left Plymouth late, the traffic was horrendous and the driver was extremely nervous and hesitant and we ended up arriving in Kingsbridge 15 minutes late resulting in me only just catching the connecting bus to Hope Cove.

Arriving at Hope Cove and the sun was shining but there was a bitingly cold wind as I headed off along the clifftops towards Thurlestone, seeing a female sparrowhawk and a raven along the way. A quick look at South Huish Marsh turned up a pair of wigeon amongst the teal and mallard before I continued on my way, deciding to walk along the beach instead of the cliff path. This was a foolish mistake as I had to clamber across rocks which resulted in me slipping, falling over and getting wet feet and a very bruised finger - I never learn.

Eventually arriving at the beach I found a birder-photographer laying down on the sand and pointing a massive camera at something and a quick scan found the desert wheatear quietly feeding very close by on the sand, a life tick for me ( my 7th of the year).

Desert Wheatear - Ridiculously Close

I found a small piece of rock to sit on at the top of the beach and sat quietly to watch the bird which at times came within a few feet of me and for the next 2 hours was totally absorbed by it - a very beautiful and charismatic bird indeed as it swooped low across the beach or high up into the air to chase after insects or poked around in the sand.

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear - beautiful buffy orange plumage tones

Desert Wheatear - buffy off-white rump with black tail end

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear - looking gorgeous

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear - wishing it was at home in Africa

A few gannets, 3 common scoter flying east and a small flock of wigeon resting on the sea with a few teal were also seen during quick scans offshore during the short periods the wheatear would disappear from sight but eventually it was time to leave for the walk back to Hope Cove.

It was difficult to tear myself away as I could have watched the desert wheatear all day, the views were amazing as it was so tame and unfazed by the birders nearby watching it.

Desert Wheatear - better view of rump and tail

Desert Wheatear - looking very pale in this light

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Another quick look at South Huish Marsh on the walk back added a lapwing, a redshank and 2 dunlin to the days bird list along with a white farmyard goose amongst the Canada geese, a grey heron, a little egret and a pair of stonechat. 

I then met David at Hope Cove for a warm up and some lunch in The Cove cafe before the drive home to Plymouth via a quick look around Kingsbridge - what a very enjoyable day out indeed.

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